Over the weekend my wife and I went to the Gorilla Tango Theater to watch a collection of five ten minute plays. It was something of a nostalgia trip for me—the theater very much resembled the theater I built and produced plays in more than forty years ago—audience seats on risers, slightly raised platform for the stage, lighting bar on a pipe across the front of the stage. I could seat about three times as many in my audience as GTT, my venue was three-quarter round, and my lighting had a bit more capability but the resemblance certainly took me back.
The plays varied in quality from excellent to complete mess. I won’t analyze them in detail. Suffice it to say that the play written by our friend (which is what we primarily came to see) was excellent.
If any of you are thinking of writing a play (and most of you probably are), here are a few tips for writing a ten minute play:
- Have an idea for a story that can be told in ten minutes. The Ten Commandments wouldn’t have been all that compelling as a ten minute play.
- A play with only one point of view is a monologue. If you’re only interested in (or capable of) expressing one point of view, why put it in the form of dialogue?
- Don’t have your characters tell the audience how they feel. Show them how they feel.
- Don’t tell your audience what to think. Show them why to think it.
- If your ten minute play starts at fever intensity with the actors shouting at each other, there’s no where left to go. Start quieter.
- Theater is the most collaborative of art forms. Not only is there the creator and the viewer (audience) but there’s a director and one or more actors. Anything you want to control you must write into your play. Anything you don’t write into your play will be beyond your control.
- Write about something you know or at least know of. For example, Chicago cops come in pairs (or more) and don’t routinely banter with perps.
- There are many literary forms: poem, short story, play, novel, essay, sermon, etc.. Very, very few of us can master any of them let alone many of them. There are only a very few Shakespeares or Pushkins. If you want to preach a sermon, a play is a lousy way to do it.
On a side note I can recommend Arturo’s Tacos in Bucktown. Order the tacos; don’t waste your time with anything else.